CAR-T

Fresh turmoil inside Novartis’ revamped CAR-T organization as top exec jumps ship


There’s more turmoil to report from inside Novartis’ CAR-T camp.

On Friday Karen Walker will leave a senior position in charge of CMC/manufacturing of CAR-Ts for Novartis in exchange for a new position she’s taking at Seattle Genetics, Endpoints News has learned.

Walker — the VP Global Head Cell and Gene Therapies Technical Development and Manufacturing at Novartis — was one of three senior execs put in charge of the cell and gene therapy initiative at the company last fall, according to sources close to the company, after a bruising restructuring over the summer in which the unit was chopped up and absorbed inside a huge R&D organization. Samuele Butera was put in charge of the commercial/business aspect of the group while David Lebwohl handles clinical ops.

“Karen Walker will join Seattle Genetics as Vice President of Global Quality in mid-April,” confirmed a spokesperson for Seattle Genetics.

I contacted Eric Althoff, a spokesperson for Novartis, Wednesday night, but after acknowledging my query he did not follow up. Althoff has declined to respond to a followup query.

Novartis has been bleeding talent throughout its global organization for the past year. Walker’s departure, though, comes at a particularly critical stage for Novartis, just days after the pharma giant gained a priority review for CTL019, putting it on a short path to perhaps the first historic approval for a CAR-T.

Last summer Endpoints broke the story about Novartis’ reorganization in CAR-T, which led the group’s top exec, Usman ‘Oz’ Azam, to leave Novartis. About 120 staffers were also terminated as the separate group was pulled back into the R&D structure.

Novartis has kept up a neck-and-neck race with Kite on the lead program, which has its own pioneering CAR-T headed to the FDA.

Manufacturing in this field is critical. To make this therapy, physicians extracts cells from cancer patients and then reengineer them with a chimeric antigen receptor to guide them to attack cancer cells. The revised cells are then injected back into patients. To be competitive, a company has to prove not only that they know how to make the therapy, they also have to be able to turn it around quickly for use.


Get Endpoints News in your inbox

News reports for those who discover, develop, and market drugs. Join 13,500+ biopharma pros who read Endpoints News articles by email every day. Free subscription.

Quick Subscribe

You're subscribing to Endpoints News

John Carroll, Editor and Co-Founder

We produce two daily newsletters designed to give you a complete picture of what's important in biopharma.

Early Edition is a skimmable digest of original sources you need to see by ~7:15a ET, and our Main Edition is the daily chronicle of biotech, with every story inside the email ~11:55a ET.
2x/weekdays. Privacy policy





Bracket